Ken Ehrlich + Brandon LaBelle
"Active Refuse", exploring sanitation systems in Berlin, with a presentation at the studio of Erik Göngrich
July 16, 2005
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research intervention installation cooking
In what way are cities consumed by their own excrement? And how do policies of waste management relate to urban planning, and the veneer of architectural presentation? It was our interest to follow the trail of shit as it seeps from the city of Berlin, through infrastructures of waste management, to environmental and economic structures of recycling and waste policy, and back into the life of the city and its cultures of food consumption. Following such research reveals the often over-looked presence of shit found within bureacractic offices, a city's presumed order, governmental initiative, and the basic components of what it means to produce. This led us over the course of a week in Berlin to visits to BSR, the city's waste management company, and its main waste transfer center (located in Britz), and BKW, a Bio-Gas recycling center in Fürstenwalde producing energy from food waste. Dr. Thomas Klöckner showed us around the BSR facility, along with a team of journalists from Uzbekistan (who were producing a film to help in their country's privatizing of infrastructural projects). BSR manages over 400 million tons of waste per year exclusively from Berlin, and following the closure of all landfills in Germany (in 2005) has been part of the country's radical recycling policies: their famous "sort and save" initiative requires by law that citizens sort their trash into 6 categories, including food waste, which is collected in brown recycling containers. In addition, trash bins throughout cities are divided into four containers, which ask people to deposit appropriately their given rubbish. All of this enables efficient recycling programs to be conducted. Such work also produces a culture obsessed with waste (which may echo the notorious German toilet, designed to capture and hold shit on a platform for inspection, before flushing). Visiting BKW furthered our work, and allowed us to follow the trail of waste as it leaves the city, removed by BSR, to its recycling. Specializing in Bio-Gas, BKW is a small facility located 85km outside of Berlin, and features as one of many recycling plants. The entire facility is geared toward recycling food waste only, into clean energy and compost. Ralf Gabler gave us a tour of the plant, taking us through the process, which in the end provides electrical energy for 2000 households in the local area.
visiting BSR, Berlin waste center BSR waste center's trash dump with Ralf Gabler, assistant manager at BKW Dr Thomas Klöckner served as our guide to the BSR waste plant
visiting BSR, Berlin waste center, filming inside the trash dump one of many trash handler's in the city of Berlin food waste deposited at BKW by BSR consisting entirely of waste from the city of Berlin compost produced from food waste at BKW Bio-Gas plant